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Professor Howard Kurtz with the dresses

Professor Howard Kurtz, assistant curator of costumes/textiles works with graduate student Lorraine Burns, intern, on a Marjorie Merriweather Post exhibit at Hillwood in Washington, D.C. Photo by Craig Bisacre.

Post Exhibit Strolls Fashion Forward through History

Nestled on a 25-acre estate in Washington, D.C., is the last home of a woman who lived a life so extraordinary that it’s been immortalized in a new exhibit curated by a George Mason University theater professor.

Marjorie Merriweather Post was a businesswoman who grew her father’s cereal venture into a multimillion-dollar company while establishing herself as a fashion-forward socialite. She did both in the early 20th century—at a time when it was unusual for a woman to be the boss, much less a boss with a wardrobe that demanded as much respect as the position.

Seventy-five dresses from this wardrobe make up the exhibit “Ingénue to Icon” at her former home, now known as the Hillwood Museum.

Exhibit curator Howard Vincent Kurtz handpicked the gowns displayed in the exhibit from the 175 Merriweather Post had in her possession when she died in 1973 at the age of 86.

“She wanted her home to become a public museum,” said Kurtz, who has divided the last 18 years of his career between teaching at Mason and curating at the Hillwood. He conducts research, conservation and costume display at the museum.

I’m actually carrying out her wishes; she saved [these dresses] for a reason.

Howard Vincent Kurtz, Exhibit Curator

The exhibit, located in a small cottage on the property called the Adirondack, is arranged in a semi-circle, with the dresses Merriweather Post wore as a young girl to the far right. As visitors move left, they see her evolution from a Midwestern girl clad in the feminine blush pinks of the Edwardian era to a mature mid-century woman.

Kurtz wrote the book Ingénue to Icon: 70 Years of Fashion from the Collection of Marjorie Merriweather Post, which doubles as the exhibit’s accompanying catalog.